DeWitt Clinton's dream came true, and is still at work on the historic Erie Canal.
I am interested in local history and happily reside in a small village on the Erie Canal. I have crossed the Canal thousands of times and still love to watch the bridges go up as the boats pass by. The Erie Canal and its vessels are part of the rhythm and fabric of our community. They have been intertwined for two hundred years and will continue through time. I am compelled to share the story of the DeWitt Clinton, a smaller but still mighty tug. We both call Albion our home and share something else in common - this Tug's captain is my brother.
Is that Tug DeWitt Clinton traveling OVER a road? Why yes it is. The DeWitt is crossing over the Medina Culvert. This is the only place along the Erie Canal where you can drive under the canal – or cross over a road, as our favorite Tug is doing in this awesome photo.
When the Medina Culvert was built in 1823, it was mortarless. A series of keystones held it all in place. The brown sign to the right states it is listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not as the only road under the Erie Canal.
Take care when passing under this low clearance single lane roadway. It’s a little dark, a little damp, and well worth the trip just to say you did it!
Even after all these years the Medina Culvert is still in great shape, just like Tug DeWitt Clinton. #KeepCanalBoatsAfloat.
Many children living in canal towns are naturally intrigued by the canal. They see it and cross over it every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. In a school bus, car, truck, bicycle, and by foot. They enjoy learning about its history, especially as it pertains to their own community.
Through the years, several school service-learning projects have been created by Albion students with the Erie Canal as the main attraction.
Just this year a group of Albion Middle School students worked with the Orleans County historian on an interpretive panel that told the story of the Erie Canal’s impact on our community. The panel was completed and installed in early July.
The amount of information students learned about Albion and the Erie Canal helped them make connections with Albion’s prosperity in the early years due to the growth of the Erie Canal. The community sprang up all around the canal as a result of the “express waterway” and our farmers thrived; we became the “breadbasket of the United States.”
Additional projects include the creation of local services maps for canal visitors as well as a larger downtown map located on the canal park gazebo. These maps help visitors to seek locations of services in our village. Students planted trees, flowers, added umbrellas to picnic tables for shade, helped with canal counts of boaters, bicyclists and pedestrians, participated in canal clean sweep events, created and placed “Welcome to Albion” signs at the entrances to Albion along the canal, painted a packet boat mural, and painted the canal gazebo. All of these projects help create a sense of community pride and place.
In September students heard about the Tug Urger and possible plans to place it at a New York State Thruway stop. These students signed a petition to #SaveTheUrger. They sent the petition to New York Power Authority and the New York State Canal Corporation.
Yes, even young people can participate in their community and express their concerns about things they care about. Citizenship starts in our own backyard.
Read a September 9th Time Union article titled “State reconsidering fate of historic canal tugboat, other vessels,” to learn more about a meeting scheduled on September 18th between the New York Power Authority and representatives from Preservation League of New York State, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and Canal Society of New York State.
The meeting will examine “options” for the Tug Urger.
In addition to Tug Urger, this writer hopes attendees also express concerns for the ongoing care, upkeep and preservation of other worthy NYS Canal Corp vessels, especially Tug DeWitt Clinton.
If a Tugboat had fingers, they would be crossed for a positive outcome from this meeting.
In May of 1940 Prime Minister Winston Churchill authorized Operation Dynamo; the historic “miraculous intervention” that rescued over 338,000 English, French, Polish and Belgian soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk. Over a period of nine days from May 27 – June 4, 1940 over 860 vessels, of which more than 400 were privately owned small craft, voluntarily and compassionately carried out a courageous mission of hope that has always been, and continues to be, a hallowed trademark of the civilian maritime community. This act of desperation resulted in the heroic Miracle of Dunkirk, but only due to the selfless efforts and determination of British seamen and their crews.
“One of the most motley fleets of history – ships, transports, merchantmen, fishing boats, pleasure craft – took men off from the very few ports left and from the open beaches themselves . . .” ~George Fielding Eliot, U.S. Army Officer
On September 11, 2001 our world was changed forever. The attack upon New York City’s World Trade Center Twin Towers delivered to American soil the brutality and inhumanity of an evil not known since the horrors that fascism brought to Europe in the late 1930’s.
Like Dunkirk, one of the most remarkable yet mostly untold stories of the events surrounding 9/11 is one of the brave and fearless efforts of the civilian maritime community of New York City. Collectively they rescued more than 500,000 New Yorkers from the tragic and perilous environment left by the aftermath at Ground Zero. When the United States Coast Guard Pilot Boat #1 put out an alert to “All available boats!” hundreds responded including 50 Tugs, 33 Ferries, sightseeing and dinner cruise boats and small personal pleasure craft. These maritime heroes, much like their seafaring brothers and sisters sixty-one years earlier, delivered over one half million frightened, confused and in some cases injured people to safety in just nine hours.
One of these crafts, which was recently honored at the 2018 Waterford Tug Boat Roundup as “TUG OF THE YEAR”, was the NYFD Fireboat John J. Harvey. She launched in 1931 and was active in the NYFD marine fleet until she was retired in 1995. In her day she was the fastest fire-fighting vessel of her generation and her pumps could spray 18,000 gallons of water per minute from three locations on deck; fore, mid and aft.
Having been retired four years earlier, in 1999 she was rescued from the scrap yard by a group of maritime preservationists who believed that she should be preserved and honored for her dedication to the city and her numerous missions that saved both lives and property for 64 years. The efforts of her new owners and the volunteers that restored her were rewarded in June 2000 when the John J. Harvey was honored by being enrolled in the prestigious National Park Service National Registry of Historic Preservation.
But her shining moment was when she responded to the “All available boats” call on the morning of September 11, 2001. At first she joined the fleet that was rescuing survivors from lower Manhattan; but early on she was contacted by the NYFD and informed that they needed water because the damage caused by the collapse of the Twin Towers had destroyed the water delivery system of Manhattan. Others could rescue survivors; the John J. Harvey was needed to return to active duty as the proud Fireboat she had always been.
Once the crew determined that her pumps were fully operational the Department ordered her return to active fleet duty as Marine Company 2. It took a bit of maritime ingenuity, but the crew was able to adapt her “plumbing” to the new generation of firefighting hardware. Within an hour she was providing water to the struggling forces of the NYFD, and for the next 80 hours the John J. Harvey pumped 38 million gallons of water and helped firefighters throughout New York City fight the lingering devastation of the terrorists attack at Ground Zero. She simply had become a massive and proud floating fire hydrant.
“We teach tens of thousands of citizens about the rich maritime heritage of New York . . . and awe them with John J. Harvey’s complex, enduring and elegant engineering.
John J. Harvey’s work for her community and her on-going restoration as a vessel underway have been recognized in the Congressional Record and by awards from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Preservation League of New York and the Steamship Historical Society of America and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.” ~Fireboat.Org, January 2013
These two historic events serve as monumental examples of what a community of people is capable of when faced with the epic challenges too often caused by the evil intentions of a demented few. Especially significant here is the link that mariners have always shared; a bond that when “All available boats” is called out, the multitudes will respond. It happened in 1940, again in 2001 – and hopefully never needs to be repeated.
In the case of the John J. Harvey, she is the standard–bearer of why the preservation of these historic vessels is so important. Through the incredibly dedicated efforts of many, she responded at a time when America was most in need; and she continues to be a part of the living history of New York’s famed maritime tradition. Whether it is the vessels that travel our beloved canal, or the infrastructure itself, we must honor vessels like the John J. Harvey and dedicate ourselves to SAVE, PRESERVE AND HONOR OUR MARITIME HERITAGE. Their history must always be seen not just as our past, but who we are as New Yorkers now and into the future.
Actor Tom Hanks and producer/director Eddie Rosenstein (Eye Pop Productions) created an 11 minute video that will lift you up and make you proud of how civilian mariners came together in response to this catastrophic event. Watch the Youtube video here – “Boatlift – An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience”
You know how sometimes you begin searching for something on the internet and then you just kind of stumble upon something else that is kind of related to what you are looking for but totally unexpected and very intriguing? You just have to abandon your original search and dig deeper.
That is exactly what happened to me the other day. As I was searching for information about the Tugboat Roundup in Waterford (September 7-9) I stumbled upon a story about Tug Buffalo, a steam engined tug built in 1923.
The story caught my eye for a number of reasons:
I think Tug Buffalo’s shape resembles Tug DeWitt Clinton
Tug Buffalo was a working tug along the Erie Canal for more than two decades
In 2005 it was donated to the Town of Waterford
Its engine is “direct reversing”
The steam engine was repaired and it took part in the Tugboat Roundup
This tug has historic value
This tug is not being reefed, sunk, or dry docked… it is being restored!
In late 2017 it was sold to the Palmer brothers. In July it was towed back to Buffalo. The new owners hope to restore it and have it cruise along the booming Buffalo Harbor.
I live in Western New York and often visit Buffalo. I look forward to seeing Tug Buffalo, under its own power, once again grace the Buffalo waters. It will be in good company with the Edward M. Cotter, the oldest active fire boat in the world. The Cotter has been fighting fires since 1900.
If you spend any length of time along the Erie Canal you will see the majestic blue and gold Canal Corporation tugs, tenders, scows, and derrick boats going about the business of keeping the historic Erie Canal in top shape. You will also see canal boats passing east and west throughout the summer months. These are reproductions that people can rent for a week or longer. We see more and more of these boats along the Erie Canal and we also see very happy boaters enjoying their experience as they slowly work their way along the canal, stopping at many of the wonderful canal communities to learn more about the towns and Canal.
We had a Tug DeWitt Clinton sighting on a recent blog about traveling a week along the Erie Canal in a Lockmaster Canal Boat by Mid-Lakes Navigation. Click here to read Sharon Roth’s blog about her experience and to see a photo of Tug DeWitt in the background.
Heavy rains fell in mid-August and it caused massive flooding in many areas of the Finger Lakes. Roads, homes, vehicles, and waterfront properties were severely damaged. Large areas of debris could be seen floating in Seneca Lake.
Several organizations are currently helping clear the debris from Seneca Lake and assist residents with assessing the damage.
A group of NYS Canal Corporation workers, including tug captains and crew members, have been on the scene for almost a week and through the weekend helping clear debris around the Ovid area of Seneca Lake.
Take a look at this 15 second Facebook video from TrojanYacht.com showing Tug Seneca pushing a scow on its way to help with the Seneca Lake clean up efforts. A welcome sight for the lakefront residents who are trying to recover from the rains. (Video link attached here).
Follow this link to hear a Capitol Pressroom interview with Jay DiLorenzo, President of the Preservation League of New York State. He shares his thoughts on the reefing of canal vessels and dry docking Tug Urger. The interview lasts about 13 minutes and is worth a listen.
Let’s stand behind our historic fleet to #KeepCanalBoatsAfloat and #SaveTheUrger.
Social change is a demanding process that is critically dependent on several key factors. In their studies historians and sociologist alike have attempted to devise a model for change, one that may be universally applicable and repeated in order to insure the promise of social progress.
The two cornerstones of this historical progression are first – The Great Thinkers; those individuals with the ideas, beliefs and initiative that have shaped the past and continue to impact the present. And secondly, there must be a means to communicate their message to the masses in a way that is comprehensible, applicable and relevant. While other factors are critical, social progress starts with ideas of The Great Thinkers and an efficient and effective way to Spread Their Word.
So who was Johannes Gutenberg . . .
You might recall that Johannes Gutenberg (1394-1468) was a German engraver and inventor who is recognized as the creator of mechanical movable type printing. This was at a time when all manuscripts were handwritten, extremely rare and expensive, and never intended to be a means of mass communication. Books were the sole property of elite royals and more often that not, the clergy. In fact illiteracy was seen as a means used by the ruling class and the Church to control and restrict the flow of knowledge and to stifle freethinking. This all changed with Gutenberg’s 1439 invention that ushered in the first modern period of human history. By making the written word more accessible and more easily translatable what followed was change so drastic and revolutionary that we are still impacted by it today. Historic periods of social and cultural advancement such as the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Reformation all evolved because Gutenberg’s printing press made learning and the exchange of ideas on a broader scale possible.
And now Dewitt Clinton . . .
Was it by accident that the 19thcentury Age of Reform was born in New York State and followed the path of the Erie Canal? The Second Great Awakening, the abolitionist movement, women’s suffrage, temperance – all social movements in response to the ills of industrialization and abuses of unfettered capitalism in a new America. Each driven by the Great Thinkers that we all celebrate and honor today; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. It was no accident that these Great Thinkers shared in common this path of progress that is required of social reform. And what was their primary pathway and means of “mass communication” to Spread Their Word – our Erie Canal. It was not that everyone along the canal corridor embraced these social reforms, but the opportunity for discourse energized the Age of Reform and thus the spread of democratic ideals and a more inclusive and dynamic citizenry.
The answer is now obvious . . .
Their gifts were not just a rudimentary piece of 14thcentury technology and a 363 mile canal, but lasting, dramatic, and revolutionary social progress all the result of a German engraver and a 19thcentury New York politician. Both Great Thinkers, and connected by the enduring impact their creations have had on humankind.
Tug DeWitt Clinton was invited to attend the September 18th heritage festival in the Village of Spencerport. The festival was well-organized by Museum Director Simon Devenish and members of the Spencerport Depot & Canal Museum.
Attendees immediately felt like they stepped back in time with live music, demonstrations, activities, and promotions provided by local organizations. All of the events took place directly on the Erie Canal, a picture perfect background for this type of heritage event.
The quaint historic Museum provides a view of early Americana Spencerport; including canal history, the railroad and early communication systems. It is also an historical research and reference center. In addition, the Museum serves as a welcome center for boaters and bikers.
Two representatives from the NYS Canal Corporation were manning an information booth. They gladly answered questions and gave away a wide selection of materials that highlight, promote and celebrate the Erie Canalway. There really is something for everyone on the canal!
Tug DeWitt Clinton was a highlight of the festival. Many people gathered around the Tug to learn more about its history and what a typical day is like for the crew.
They loved seeing the rich wood-finished wheelhouse and its centerpiece – a massive wood and brass wheel. You can almost see and hear the past generations of proud captains that had the privilege of steering this Tug along the Erie Canal for the past 92 years.
Many visitors were keenly interested in seeing the engine room which is always in pristine condition.